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Dave Helling | Berkley Riverfront Park is a work in progress

Dave Helling
Dave Helling

It’s been about a year since Mark Funkhouser left his job as Kansas City’s mayor, but the City Council still hasn’t named anything for him.

This seems churlish. Ilus Davis and Kay Barnes have nice plazas, Emanuel Cleaver a boulevard, Roe Bartle has a hall. Charlie Wheeler has an

airport

.

Of course, this naming-stuff-for-the-mayor doesn’t always work out quite as well as hoped. Exhibit A: Richard Berkley Riverfront Park.

You may have never heard of it. It’s likely you’ve never

visited

the 17-acre stretch of land between the City Market and the Bond Bridge; on most days, were the ghosts of Lewis and Clark to clamber up the riverbank and set up camp, no one would even notice.

The Kansas City Port Authority and other local boosters came up with the idea for the park 15 years ago, as a replacement for the unsightly dump and tow lot the city operated on the grounds. The plan: Use riverboat gambling money to acquire the ground, move the cars, clean it up — and touch off private development along the city’s waterfront, which was all the rage at the time.

Gamblers have done their part. The Port Authority has spent $50 million, give or take, to build a new Grand Avenue viaduct into the park, install a street, tear that up and move it, construct a new interchange with the bridge, and remove environmental hazards built up over decades.

But private development plans have routinely fizzled. Offices, homes, shops, even sports venues have been considered for the site, then discarded. It’s the tough economy, those connected with the site say.

Maybe. But walking the park today, you wonder if spending all of that $50 million was such a good idea. That kind of money would tear down a lot of vacant homes, and you could make a pretty good case today that vacant homes are ruining neighborhoods as much as banged-up cars ruined the riverfront for decades.

When times are good, investing millions in a could-be park might be worth the gamble. Today? I’m guessing City Manager Troy Schulte would like to have some of that $50 million in the city’s pocket.

Port Authority folks insist they’re

just about ready

to move forward in finding yet another private company willing to build near the park. This time the focus will be housing, Port Authority director Michael Collins said last week.

In the meantime, look for festivals and parties to continue on the grounds: A dance fest is set for June and fireworks will be back for the 4th of July.

Fireworks? Now

that
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